Advice For Anxious ST Novices

  • So hey, not sure if this is the place to post (how often do you hear that, right?) buuuuut...

    Well, I've been RPing for like, a decade - which is apparently young for people in this hobby, so whatever - but I've never ST'd, not really. But a friend and I were lamenting that we couldn't find a new MU* that appealed to us and decided what the heck, we'd do something small via messaging or Roll20 or something for ourselves.

    Unfortunately, I have the most RP seniority, which means I defaulted to ST. So! Seeing as I'm prone to freak-outs and overthinking, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask the collective - what's the best, most useful advice you have for fledgling STs? Is there a board already that has a repository of all wisdom?

    If it helps, we're probably doing a Fate-based Welcome To Night Vale thing because Night Vale is SO PERFECT for small TT rather than a MU* setting.

    Minor edit because I lost a word somehow. Bad me, not proofreading.

  • Admin

    Don't panic.

  • Pitcrew

    @Faceless said in Storytelling:

    1. Have an ending in mind. It doesn't have to be the ending that you eventually come to, but it helps me in planning out a plot. A scenario like a scene in a movie. How did the Terminator end up in that foundry at the end of Terminator 2? Fill in the blanks to that ending and you've established some milestones for a story. None of these milestones may ever be used but you've at least given yourself the general outline of what you'd like the players to pursue.

    2. Use the rules. The books have rules. Use the rules. Knowing the rules of the game both helps inspire some sense of confidence in the storyteller as someone who knows what they're doing, and further makes it possible to help teach those who don't have gold medals in Rules 101. Don't know a rule? Looks like an opportunity to learn something new. There isn't a rule? Make something up that makes sense on the fly. Don't bog down your story mid-scene to get an answer, come back to it later and find an answer from staff or someone else who may know where you can find the rule. Also don't be afraid to take advice from a player who may know a rule. On the flipside, don't be the rules lawyer player who disrupts a scene because you want to show how obnoxiously super-smart you are.

    3. Get to know other players on your game. I don't mean that you have to tell Joe all about your wife, kids, cat named Sally, or your used condom collection. What I do mean is that the more of a visible presence you are on channels and joining in on the general banter, the more likely it is that people are going to feel comfortable approaching you later in pages to ask about the possibility of running a plot. They say one of the reasons the dog barks at the mailman so much is because he can see him, but not interact with him. He's an anomaly in the dog's territory. So don't be afraid to let the other players smell your hand. Some players may want to smell more though, so be careful.

    4. Be willing to accept people outside your clique. It's great to run things for your friends, but MUSHing at this point is social networking. The more you reach out to or otherwise make your stories available to people you normally don't have frequent contact with, the more you network. Networking is good.

    5. Run what you're going to have fun running. As has been mentioned previously in the lists of other posters, most players don't know what they want. So run what you're going to enjoy. If you build it, the players will come.

    6. Give the players options. Fight, talk, run, drop a piano on the villain, whatever it is. Options let the players know that they have control over their destiny. Even if they walk their characters into a possible death, they made a choice.

    7. For the participants out there: don't just offer up the canned "thanks, it was fun" at the end of a plot, event, scene, or whatever. If it was fun, please inform me in a @mail, pages, or right then why it was fun. What did you enjoy? If I get the "thanks, it was fun" and nothing else at the end of something I tend to believe that they're just being polite and something didn't suit their tastes. What could I work on? I'm not asking for an exhaustive review, but give me something to help tailor things going forward for you and others. Was my pacing great but content felt hard to grasp? Was my content awesome but the pacing felt like a crawl? Did I make the common mistake of shooting for Mystery and ending up in Confusing? So storytellers, don't take constructive feedback as an attack.

    It's certainly not an exhaustive list, but it's a few of the things that I had spring to mind first.

    @Faceless said in Storytelling:

    I had a few more of my own personal rules pop into my head. Wrote a song about it! Wanna hear it?! Hear it goes!

    1. Be consistent. Storytelling isn't just about telling a good story, it's also about being fair. Never do for one what you are not willing to do for another. Whether it is in rulings, addressing a player, resolving actions, or anything else - be consistent. People get shanked sometimes for being inconsistent in the pen.

    2. Be patient, but not too patient. You're running a story/plot/event, you are the leader. Understand that at times emotions can run high even for the player of the character, so don't take anything personally. Likewise don't allow yourself to be walked over. You are volunteering your time for the good of yourself and the game as a whole. Staff should be consulted if things get out of hand.

    3. Pay. Attention. I repeat, PAY ATTENTION. How frustrating is it for you when you're participating in a scene and the Storyteller is clearly trying to run a plot, play their four characters, and very likely responding to their mother via text on their phone? Don't shut out real life of course, but make sure that you're diverting a good deal of your online attention to your audience.

    4. Be concise or verbose, pick one. Either path you choose, make sure that you are adequately explaining the world you are painting around the players. For myself and I imagine others, nothing pumps the brakes on a story like being confused about the setting. How often have you watched someone pose still being in the bar and addressing the group when clearly the Storyteller and other players posed now being outside the bar four rounds ago?

    5. Take a break. You've just ran seven plots in a five days? Take a few days, a week, or however long you feel you need to recharge your batteries. You don't carry the game on your back and you're allowed to take a break; you are a volunteer after all.

    6. Leave your own personal ego at the door. You are not a god. You're nothing more than some old dude/chick sitting around a campfire, telling a ghost story. You'll face criticism at some point, so handle it with grace and remain humble. You'll look awesome and they'll look like an ass.

    7. Take care with "mystery plots". These plots can quickly devolve into "confusion plots", where no one understands what it is you're trying to explain. This is where details come into play. The more detail, the less likely your players will be met with confusion during your mystery. This is a good resource for mystery plots in my experience:

    8. Try not to recycle plots that you ran on previous games of a similar genre. But why, Faceless?! Because our community isn't vast and the players involved may recognize it. You want things to be surprising, you want to build suspense, and you want things to be fresh. Would you want to play in a plot that you know someone ran four months ago on another game? It feels like you're the runner-up. You're the friend who gets to hook up with your crush, but only after he or she got shot down by their crush. So don't do that to your players.

    9. Lose the snark. While you may be a playfully sarcastic person at heart much like myself, text doesn't often convey the playfulness of it. When dealing with people who aren't your close friends and don't know your personality, you look like you're just being a jerk. So play it safe, ditch the snark.

    Here's a link to the original thread started by @Arkandel.

  • As a long term ST/GM/DM since the mid 80's, the best advice I can say is 'Don't have an ending.' This goes counter to what other people are saying but, in my opinion the story should go as long as the players and the ST are having fun. Don't think of an ending, don't rail road the players, don't have a fixed direction. Let the story flow as the players direct it.

    Sometimes this means giving up some agency but in my mind an ST is a facilitator not a dictator. They help the stories, they provide the back drop, but the stories are written by the players themselves.

    The best games I've ever had, I came up with the introduction and then let the players go from there, what they decided to do, determined where the story went. Admittedly this means it is difficult for new ST's who are not used to running off the cuff but it is without a doubt, the story that the players feel the most invested in because it is their own story.

    So my advice is this: Be flexible, be relaxed, if the story goes 'off the rails' let it go off the rails, let it go whatever direction the players are directing it because it will be the most fun for them along the way. It is /their/ story, not your own, and they will be more engaged in it thusly.

  • @Lithium said in Advice For Anxious ST Novices:

    The best games I've ever had, I came up with the introduction and then let the players go from there, what they decided to do, determined where the story went. Admittedly this means it is difficult for new ST's who are not used to running off the cuff but it is without a doubt, the story that the players feel the most invested in because it is their own story.

    One of my earliest long-term storytelling experiences—basically an online tabletop game—I had everything all planned out. I had an NPC who the party was going to rescue from possession, who'd then be grateful and would provide them with information they'd need to get started, and an avenue of approach to the people they needed to talk to.

    And in the very first session, the players misinterpreted the possession, decided the NPC was evil... and killed him. Needless to say, I watched my sheaf of notes basically go up in metaphorical smoke, and had to completely wing it from there.

    It ended up being a lot of fun for everyone involved, but it taught me that I should never go "okay, this is how you'll progress" and set it ahead of time; if you try to railroad the players to one specific choice, someone is likely to end up disappointed. Either the players (feeling railroaded) or you as the ST (when the players refuse to stay on the rails).

    Since then, I'll usually prepare story 'beats'. Like, "if the players do X, I can have Y happen, and I think that's a likely path so I'll have some preparations made for that". ("If you find the giant demon-beast that you might stumble across, I'll have a truly Lovecraftian description of it already prepared so you don't have to wait 20 minutes on me to type one up.") If you do go to this casino, here's a few NPCs I can use in this scenario; if you don't, hey, I'll find ways for you to stumble across this one of those NPCs. Etc.

    I'm right about what the players will do maybe half of the time; the other half of the time, I find myself going, "Well. I did not expect that. Let's see what happens next." And honestly, those can be some of the best ones. :)

  • Pitcrew

    I'd suppose it'd be better to have an 'end state' in mind, but not an ending. Take a basic fantasy plot about slaying a dragon. Will the players slay the dragon and become heroes or will they get bribed with the dragon's gold and fake the death?

    Faceless' point is a good one, don't get me wrong. It's important to know where the story is going. But plotting a good RP event is nothing like plotting a story. The ending of Terminator 2 is very powerful, rich with pathos and symbolism, but the whole story has been building to it. It was scripted to happen and everything that was happening earlier in the film was building up that the Terminator would need to sacrifice himself after becoming a father to John Connor. Simply put, outside of some truly serendipitous moments, you can't get that in a RP.

    The best plots I've run are where me and a few other players knew how the story would begin and had a general idea for the ending. This PC's beloved NPC will be kidnapped by this PC, and they will have a cool fistfight and rescue them. But how will they get there? Who will they get for help? That's all improvised, but there's enough people who know the general idea that it won't stagnate and die mid-story.

    The worst I've run are when I've become too wrapped up in something I thought was cool and wasn't as flexible as I should have been.

    The worst I've seen run and participated in are where the STs involved keep their cards close to their chest, spring surprises on everyone, and seemingly have no overarching plan or timetable. A plot that should be done in weeks stretches into months stretches into static death.

    Faceless' point about cliques is a good one. I'll just expand it slightly. Don't just accept them into the scene, actually make them feel included. There've been some plots I've participated in where there was a clear clique the plot was for, and some others who weren't stopped from participating but were basically scenery to make that clique feel a bit better. Your usual RP buddies are awesome, certainly - but take the time to make anyone outside that group feel included and that their participation matters. Otherwise, just keep it private.

  • Pitcrew

    I'm gonna go ahead and be the asshole here, because while it's super great to include--especially meaningfully--people outside your friends, the best advice I can give you is:

    Run shit for your friends.

    At least at first. Fuck other people. Your friends will understand if you fuck up, don't know a rule, have to go clean up after the dog, whatever. Basically every stressful situation I've ever had as an ST has been because of people I don't fucking know, or that I don't get along with in the first place, but was in the unenviable position of having to ST for, for X or Y reason.

    I'm not saying NEVER run for people you don't know. Just... get comfortable with the people you do first, then dip your toe further out. And if people judge you as exclusionary and a jerk for it, they can go sit and spin on their lack of plot, because chances are they don't get any scenes because they act like entitled monkey farts.

    Good luck!

    P.S. Also, all that stuff @Faceless and @Gilette said. Keeping in mind, of course, the above.

  • Pitcrew


    Oh, absolutely. If you've got a good core of 3-4 people who'll love the stuff you run, it means you can easily get a few more and grow from there.

    Run the stuff you enjoy for the people who enjoy coming along for the ride. You'll never please everyone and trying to do it will just end up diluting your scenes and cramping your fun.

  • @Arkandel Too late!

    @Faceless Thank you for that link! It looks wonderful!

    @Coin Oh, definitely. Absolutely just going to run for friends and people I know first. I'd never even consider it otherwise. Heck, I'm having second thoughts when it's just friends.

    I think the thing to watch for me will definitely be what @Gilette says - expectations of what players might do. Hopefully I'll have time to read that Storytelling thread today. But thanks to all for responding with some solid advice to think about.

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